News / Middle East

Obama, Netanyahu Discuss Mideast, Iran

President Barack Obama (r) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, May 20, 2011
President Barack Obama (r) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, May 20, 2011

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have conferred about Mideast peace efforts, including recent Israel-Palestinian talks in Jordan. They also discussed Iran.

This is the first time in a long while that there has been an official White House statement on a telephone conversation between Mr. Obama and the Israeli prime minister.

It was, according to a White House statement, part of their regular communication and cooperation on bilateral and regional issues, with a major topic being the recent talks in Amman, Jordan between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

Mr. Obama reaffirmed his commitment to the goal of a comprehensive and lasting peace in the region. The president meets next week with Jordan's King Abdullah to discuss the status of peace efforts.

The Obama-Netanyahu conversation also dealt with Iran and came against a background of a number of events including Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, and the recent assassination in Tehran of an Iranian nuclear scientist.

In Thursday's White House news briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney repeated unequivocal U.S. condemnation of the assassination, referring to it as "the act of violence in Iran", and saying the U.S. had nothing to do with it.

Carney was very specific in saying "we don't speak for any other country" when asked by a reporter if Washington could say that Israel had nothing to do with it.

The president's spokesman responded this way when asked about a call by a hardline Iranian newspaper for retaliation against Israel in response to the killing of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who worked at Iran's main uranium enrichment site.

"Our concern about Iranian behavior is ever-present and you know we are very vigilant and mindful of various threats that are made, whether they involve the Strait of Hormuz, or other areas or issues, but I don't have a specific level of concern to convey to you," said Carney.

If Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed the assassination of the nuclear scientist, the White House isn't saying. Thursday's statement said they talked about "recent Iran-related developments, and Mr. Obama reiterated his unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.

Carney said the U.S. has been pleased with progress made so far in U.S. efforts to persuade countries to lessen their dependence on imports of oil from Iran.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has traveled to Asian capitals, including Beijing and Tokyo, and reports Thursday said Japan had agreed to steps to lessen its reliance on Iran. Geithner apparently received no similar assurances from China.

In the latest stage of global sanctions pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, the U.S. is targeting Iran's Central Bank with sanctions against companies dealing with it, and European countries are preparing to tighten restrictions on Iranian oil exports.

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